A GODS WRATH –
By Bernard VanCuylenburg
Over fifty years ago on an estate far away, a story of evil and revenge was played out to the horror of a young Assistant Superintendent who became the hapless victim of a God’s revenge from another dimension…….And with that introduction the curtain goes up in the following tale of a God’s wrath. The plantation where this drama unfolded was Hopton Group in the Uva district – an estate as remote as it gets, far away from anywhere. Hopton was one of the largest estates in Madulsima in the Uva district, 2600 acres in extent. The Manager at that time was a Scotsman, a veteran planter who had risen from the ranks and learned his craft the hard way. In a word, he was a pragmatic gentleman well versed in his trade, and more than being a Planter he also had a degree from a prestigious Scottish university. There were four Assistant Superintendents on Hopton, and the youngest and most recent of them was the chief protaganist in this story. The four divisions of Hopton were Swinton, Old Factory Division, Bulugolla, and Lower Division. “Sandy” the young Assistant was in charge of the latter two divisions. “Sandy” is the pseudonym I shall use, for that was not his real name.
In the Lower Division there stood a very large banyan tree at the foot of which was a small shrine to the Hindu deity, Muniyandy. This giant tree provided thick shade for about 150 tea bushes. The shade to an extent restricted the growth of the bushes, and consequently the Manager gave instructions to Sandy that he wanted the tree cut down. When Sandy instructed his Kangany to cut down the tree, the latter politely replied “I am sorry Sir – I am unable to carry out your instructions !” Young Sandy was taken aback by his answer, and to his incredulous question “And why not…?” the Kangany’s reply simply stunned him. Almost in a whisper, he respectfully told the young Dorai “Do you know who is under that tree Sir ? It is the God Muniyandy “. According to Hindu lore, the deity Muniyandy is invoked for both protection and harm. He further added that this banyan tree stood there even before his grandfather worked on Hopton. Then plucking up courage, he advised Sandy not to mess with this deity for fear of disastrous consequences which could follow.
Sandy conveyed this negative news to his Manager who weighing up the situation, told him at least to cut some of the large branches. To give the reader an idea of the size of this tree, I was told that the large branches in their own right was the size of a tree. Thats how large the tree was – a giant sentinel among the other trees. Since the Kangany now filled with dread, respectfully said he could not carry out this order for fear of some harm which may befall him or his family, the job was delegated to a professional tree cutter from the village. The tree cutter commenced work to have the branches removed on a Monday morning, and Sandy continued his field rounds satisfied that the matter was now under control. On Tuesday morning Sandy visited the site to see what progress the tree cutter had made. He was surprised to find nobody in sight. Summoning the Kangany he was told that shortly after the man commenced work, a freak stroke of the axe struck his foot nearly severing his instep and he had to be hospitalised ! Due to this, work to have the branches removed came to a temporary standstill.
THE HOUND FROM HELL
On Wednesday morning while on a routine field round Sandy was riding past the tree when suddenly, a large dog crossed his path causing him to run over the animal. What he remembers was that no sooner he ran over the dog, the animal simply vanished, while he crashed onto two rocks by the side of the road. He was badly injured with a crocked knee, and a large gash on his head which bled profusely. He also suffered an injury to his elbow. Consider that all this happened in broad daylight. A dog intending to attack anybody, leave alone a vehicle, does not materialize out of thin air or in this case, suddenly pop up from behind a tea bush ! Furthermore a dog run over by a motorbike, does not just up and walk away……. Following this encounter with the hound from hell, Sandy was laid up in bed for a week. The Kangany now sick with worry visited him in his bungalow and told him “Sir, I told you not to tangle with the Sami Muniyandy !”. It must be mentioned that before this mishap, Sandy while returning from his club the night before was almost run over by a bus on the Madulsima road. He was riding in heavy fog and gave way to an oncoming bus. To his horror, the bus suddenly veered to the edge of the road where he was. A few more feet and he would have been knocked down a 200 ft. embankment. The Kangany then said that one of the estate labourers was on the bus and witnessed what had happened. Before he left he again reiterated his warning “Be very careful Sir – Muniyandy does not give people second chances!”
Sandy reported the tree cutters injury to his manager who eventually abandoned the idea……and so the old banyan tree stood in all its glory apparently protected by the deity. Six months later the beautiful season of Christmas was celebrated on Hopton Group, and the manager invited his Assistants for a Christmas dinner at the Hopton bungalow, which was also called ‘Hopton House’. It was a large rambling bungalow set in lovely gardens and bucolic surroundings. Seasonal cheer was in the air and with delicious savouries prepared by the bungalow Appu (the Head Cook) and the amber liquid flowing freely, everybody present was was enjoying the spirit of Christmas. The Manager during the fun and frolic of the evening , then requested his guests to gather around because he had something to tell them. They gladly obliged expecting a speech or at least a Christmas toast. They were caught off guard and totally surprised when he then requested Sandy to tell them about the banyan tree on Hopton’s Lower Division, and the incidents which followed after attempts to cut down the tree. Sandy obliged and gave them full details, chapter and verse which had them enthralled. But that was not all. The Manager then said that he had something he wanted to tell them about similar incidents on another estate in the Rakwana district where he was Manager, before coming to Hopton.
Eight years before he was assigned to the top job of General Manager of Hopton Group, he was Superintendent of an estate in the Rakwana district. On this estate too, there was a large banyan tree which he wanted cut down, but found that nobody was willing to obey his instructions. This unwillingness was not in any way due to a spirit of disobedience, but he had the impression that they were very fearful of any idea of destroying the tree because of the shrine to the deity Muniyandy which stood at the foot of the tree. And then he hit upon the notion of doing the job himself ! The banyan tree’s root system is above the ground surface, and thus exposed. So he dug some holes on each root and stuffed the holes with sodium arsenide convinced that the poison would ultimately destroy the tree. He used his large pen knife to fill the holes with the poison. He then continued his field rounds, convinced that the poison would do its deadly work. But there were other forces at work…….forces from another dimension which mortal man could not control, defy or conquer……….A week to the day, he happened to be riding past the tree when a bee stung him on his wrist. He stopped his bike and took out his penknife which he used to prise the sting out. It was possible that a residue of the poison from the sodium arsenide was still on the blade. But within a few minutes his entire body turned blue and he dropped down unconscious. Fortunately, some labourers in the pruning field nearby observed what had happened, and raising the alarm he was rushed to his bungalow and from there taken to Colombo for urgent medical treatment. Thanks to his Assistant Superintendent who immediately telephoned the Company in Colombo notifying them of the incident, he was taken to the best private hospital and received expert medical attention, which saved his life. After he recovered, he was told the antecedent results of the incident. He had to rest and recuperate in hospital for eight days before he returned to the estate.
Sandy could not have had the prescience to know then, that this deity would cross his path in future in different circumstances……..
By now there was pin drop silence in the bungalow and the guests, listening to the similarity of both incidents felt they were witnessing some dark horror movie in which a rampant evil had manifested itself. However, they all lived to talk about it another day. But the mystery surrounding these incidents continued down the years, as Sandy discovered during his planting career. From Hopton he was promoted to another estate in the Uda Pusselalwa district and thereafter as his career blossomed he was promoted as Superintendent to a plantation in the Upcot district. Imagine his surprise when on assuming his new post, he was bewildered to find that not far from the entrance to his bungalow, there was a shrine to the deity Muniyandy !. But with the responsibility of now being the Manager of a large plantation, he banished any negative thoughts of his past experiences with this deity and set about the demanding tasks of a Superintendent. Whenever the labourers held a ceremony to worship this deity, he was invited and he was told they considered it an honour to have him present at these ceremonies adding further that the deity would favour him with his protection………..if they only knew the past experiences Sandy – and his boss on Hopton – had with Muniyandy !
Muniyandy being a lethal deity had to be appeased with blood and liquor ! Sandy later told me that the Hindu priest (the Poosari) conducting these ceremonies worked himself into a trance. There were also chosen women who performed these ceremonies. He recalls witnessing one particular ceremony where the woman got into a trance, and cut the neck of the cock bird which happened to be the offering. She then drank the squirting blood from the cut neck, and gulped down the liquor. Pardon the bad pun, but this had to be the most potent COCKTAIL on the face of the earth !!! At major ceremonies, a goat was offered as a sacrifice. Whenever they equested Sandy for a contribution to purchase a goat, he never refused, and contributed willingly in good grace ! After that life went on and Muniyandy never bothered him again……….(Probably there were no more trees to cut down !!) And Sandy went on to be one of the most successful planters for that particular Agency House.
I visited Sandy a few months after he assumed duties on Hopton Group Madulsima. He is a family friend and a college mate. Many years later I spent a few days with him when he was Superintendent on two estates, one in the Dickoya district and the other in the Madulkelle planting region. He had a stellar career as a Planter and was highly regarded by the Company who were the Agents for the estates he worked on. He retired from planting a few years after the nationalisation of the plantations.